Sensible and Sensitive

The Difference in Meaning Between Two Commonly Confused Words

sensible and sensitive
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You can probably sense that there's a difference in meaning between the adjectives sensible and sensitive.

Definitions

The most common definitions of the adjective sensible are practical, reasonable, and having (or showing) good sense or sound judgment. Sensible shoes, for example, are intended for comfort rather than good looks.

The most common definitions of the adjective sensitive are easily hurt or offended, highly perceptive, quick to respond to slight changes or differences, and concerned with secret or delicate matters.

See also: Commonly Confused Words: Sensual and Sensuous.

Examples

  • Sticking to a sensible diet plan ensures that the weight will stay off.
  • Children on drugs often leave clues, and sensible parents will investigate when their suspicions are aroused.
  • "The children I saw in Yugoslavia appeared sensible and level-headed without the buoyancy of childhood. Here were children I could understand."
    (Maya Angelou, Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas. Random House, 1976)
  • An extremely sensitive person can have a severe reaction to the small amount of milk protein in a candy bar.
  • Sensitive medical equipment requires an uninterrupted supply of power.
  • A reporter at the Washington Post gained access to several highly sensitive CIA documents.
  • "The sensible Shaw had plenty of unwelcome advice for his sensitive pupil." (Stanley Weintraub, Shaw's People: Victoria to Churchill. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996)

    Usage Notes

    • "A sensible person has good sense and judgment; a sensitive one has sensitivity, that is, delicate feelings. Sensitive (to) means readily affected (by), often in the sense of being easily hurt, and aware of, responsive to (feelings, etc.)."
      (B.A. Phythian, A Concise Dictionary of Confusables. John Wiley & Sons, 1990)
    • "A sensible person has 'common sense,' and does not make stupid decisions.
      'I want to buy that dress.' 'Be sensible, dear. You haven't got that much money.'
      A sensitive person feels things easily or deeply, and may be easily hurt.
      Don't shout at hershe's very sensitive.
      Have you got a sun cream for sensitive skin?
      Note that sensible is a 'false friend'—similar words in some languages mean 'sensitive.'"
      (Michael Swan, Practical English Usage. Oxford University Press, 1995)
    • "The adjective sensitive is followed by the preposition to in the sense 'affected by': He is too sensitive to criticism, and by about in the sense 'self-conscious': She is very sensitive about her large nose."
      (Martin Manser, Good Word Guide, 7th ed. Bloomsbury, 2011)

    Practice Exercises

    • (a) The device was so _____ that a sneeze could shut it down.
    • (b) The most _____ way to resolve a family problem is by open discussion.
    • (c) The government considered the information too _____ to share with other countries, even though it had been lying around for months in computers, briefcases, and flash drives.

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Sensible and Sensitive

    • (a) The device was so sensitive that a sneeze could shut it down.
    • (b) The most sensible way to resolve a family problem is by open discussion.
    • (c) The government considered the information too sensitive to share with other countries, even though it had been lying around for months in computers, briefcases, and flash drives.
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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Sensible and Sensitive." ThoughtCo, Apr. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/sensible-and-sensitive-1689490. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 3). Sensible and Sensitive. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sensible-and-sensitive-1689490 Nordquist, Richard. "Sensible and Sensitive." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sensible-and-sensitive-1689490 (accessed January 19, 2018).